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There are certain sounds I’ll never forget,
like the depressed shuffle of my mom’s slippers on wood floors
and words like “I told your dad you might not be his
when you were two years old. We were driving in the car.”
I was home from college, eager to see old friends, ready for a summer job,
and I wondered why I was surrounded by bags of recyclables
on the back porch.
My mother’s leg dangled over the papasan chair
and swung incessantly back and forth
as she rolled a tiny wad of paper between her fingers.
Her movements always caught the greater part
of my attention, made me think of weakness. I took out a cigarette,
and she said, “I wish you wouldn’t smoke—
Give me one,” and we puffed away for the same reasons.
She loved that papasan chair, I think,
Because she was cradled by it.
None of this is for me, I remember telling myself—
The papasan, the swinging leg, the uncertainty.
15 years later, my two-year old daughter tells me she has the hiccups.
When did she learn that word?
This tiny, two-foot walking sponge who drinks up life
can’t even write her own name, yet she laughs at jokes
and loves putting puzzles together.
My nineteen-year old babysitter arrives,
stands in the doorway, shyly shifts her weight,
tells me she’s pregnant. Her boyfriend dropped her off.
They plan to get married. She shoves her Care Bear key chain
into her pocket.
Last month she dated a different guy who, she had said,
was handsome but home-schooled, so he failed
the army’s entrance exam.
Last month my babysitter was joining the army, too,
but why dwell on the past? Tonight, she’s watching my kids.
My mother was nineteen when I was born,
and my father was drafted during the Vietnam War.
He was one of ten not sent. I can’t help but realize,
as I notice my babysitter fidget,
that she is my mom, and the clandestine shadow
pulling out of the driveway is my dad.
Bio: Brenda Nicholas is an Associate Professor of English at Temple College and lives in Austin TX. Her work has appeared in The Painted Bride Quarterly, Main Channel Voices, Red River Review, Illya’s Honey, Menacing Hedge, Snapdragon, The Helix Magazine, and other literary journals.